Mar 16, 2023 - News

D.C. abortion providers, patients challenged if drug access blocked

Illustration of a pill casting a shadow, with the pill made from dotted lines as if it were invisible.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

D.C. is a haven for abortion care, but a pending case in Texas could make it harder to serve all patients, including locals.

Driving the news: A Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas is considering whether to temporarily block the FDA's approval of the abortion drug mifepristone, which has been legal for 22 years. A ruling against the FDA would make the medication unavailable even in states that protect abortion access, Axios’ Oriana González and Shawna Chen report.

Why it matters: Loss of access to the drug would send even more people to the D.C. area for services and stress an abortion-care infrastructure that's already at capacity.

State of play: The DC Abortion Fund, an organization that helps fund abortions, is funneling thousands of dollars a month toward abortions for travelers from anti-abortion hotspots.

  • The group last month spent $65K on abortions for people from Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Illinois, and $93K for people in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

A majority of those cases have been people early on in their pregnancy, meaning they would be eligible for an abortion with mifepristone, a spokesperson for the fund tells Axios.

Zoom in: If access to mifepristone were cut off, more people would need surgical abortions, which are more expensive.

  • Alternatively, patients could use the drug misoprostol, which can make the process take longer and is more likely than mifepristone to cause side effects, including vomiting and diarrhea.

Meanwhile, some people might need late-term abortions, which are difficult to access in many places, but accessible in D.C. and Maryland. And the DC Abortion Fund says it’s already seeing more patients traveling here for those procedures.

Details: Partners in Abortion Care, a new all-trimester clinic in College Park, tells Axios it's operating at capacity with 10-15 patients a week. Staff is currently scheduling new patients three weeks out — which can sometimes mean patients who have struggled for weeks to get services in a red state are too late because the clinic doesn't provide abortions after 34 weeks.

  • “When we say no to people, we know there’s really nowhere else for them to go,” says clinic co-founder Diane Horvath.

Zoom out: Horvath, an OB/GYN, opened Partners in Abortion Care last fall with nurse-midwife Morgan Nuzzo.

  • The two chose College Park because of the high amount of community support. “We feel very welcome here,” Horvath says.
  • Patients have come from at least 22 states and several foreign countries.

What they're saying: “There's really no reason to pull mifepristone off the market,” Horvath says. “It's a very, very safe, very effective medication. It's been in use for 20 years in the United States and longer elsewhere. It's safer than Tylenol.”

What's next: On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk questioned lawyers for the federal government about the regulatory approval of mifepristone and seemed open to the possibility of limiting it in some way, Reuters reported.

  • A ruling is expected as soon as possible, Kacsmaryk said.

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